Intellectual Disability Raises COVID-19 Death Risk

“People with IDD have functional limitations in a variety of areas, such as learning, communication and language, and behavior,” Turk explained. Those disabilities are typically diagnosed in early childhood, she noted, and are usually lifelong. Some live at home with family and varying degrees of in-home care, she said, while others live in group homes specifically configured to care for such clients.

To see how IDD might impact COVID-19 outcomes, Turk’s group sifted through data provided by 42 health care organizations.

About one-third of the roughly 500 IDD patients in the study had an intellectual disability, about 56% had a pervasive and specific developmental disorder, while 18% had cerebral palsy and 21% had a chromosomal abnormality (including 5% with Down syndrome).

As a whole, COVID-19 patients with IDD were more likely to have nutritional, endocrine and metabolic disorders (such as diabetes) and/or circulatory/heart disease, compared with the non-IDD group.

Age seemed to make a difference. Among people aged 75 and up, there was little disparity in terms of COVID-19 fatalities: About one-fifth of both IDD and non-IDD COVID-19 patients died as a result of the virus.

But compared to people of similar age in the general population, viral death rates were notably higher among IDD patients between the ages of 18 to 75, the study found, and much higher among IDD patients under 18.

In fact, while almost no non-IDD patients under the age of 18 died from COVID-19, among IDD patients the death rated amounted to 1.6 out of every 100 infections, the research team found.

But more data is needed, Turk stressed. Right now, she said, it’s just not known if IDD people are more likely to get infected in the first place, and there’s no data on how many people in this group are currently infected because “there is no U.S. surveillance that identifies people with disability.”

Support for paid caregivers crucial

Ballan believes more oversight is needed, however, to protect this vulnerable population.

“COVID-19, as it ravages its way across the United States, has already been noted to have a disparate impact on socially disadvantaged or otherwise marginalized populations,” she said, and “among these are people with IDD.”

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